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Streamlining NATO on the Table at November Talks

Michele Flournoy
Michele Flournoy

When the annual NATO summit gets underway in November, along with discussions of strategy and success in Afghanistan, the military alliance of Western democracies will also explore ways to revitalize the organization itself.

“We have a whole series of reform proposals looking at command structure, NATO agencies and institutions, NATO committees and NATO financial reform,” said Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, who said the current global economic situation has led to a re-thinking of NATO’s strategic concept by the organization’s leaders.

It marks the first time in nearly 12 years the strategic concept of the alliance, which will meet in Lisbon, Portugal, has been modified.

From the top down, it appears NATO has become serious about reforming and streamlining the command structure and how the alliance does business. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former prime minister of Denmark, has offered proposals that would pare down the bureaucracy including reducing the organization’s 400 committees to fewer than 200. The alliance is also mulling over consolidating 14 NATO agencies into three, Flournoy said.

“There is also a very careful scrub now of the common funding budget for NATO,” Flournoy said. “Again, countries are asking, ‘What am I getting for my money, and are we spending it well?’ That is leading to some serious reform for the first time in a long time.”

NATO leaders will also discuss the war in Afghanistan. There are more than 45,000 International Security Assistance Forces on the ground there, and Flournoy said alliance members have taken a role in partnering with Afghan army units and training police.

“Our troops really ‘get’ counterinsurgency,” she said. “They understand it’s not about how well they can do something — it’s about how well the Afghans can, and building the Afghan capacity and confidence to be in the lead. That’s what it’s about, so we are doing everything we can possibly do together.”

But Flournoy also acknowledged the shortfalls such as the lag time in effectively training police and the fact that a few NATO members have left or are in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan.

Another possible issue up for discussion is the NATO-Russia Council, which the United States would like to “revive,” Flournoy said, because of the relatively stable relationship between the two countries and common challenges they face such as fighting terrorism.

NATO, short for North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was created after World War II as a system of collective defense and now is made up of 28 member states. The alliance is expected to meet in Lisbon, Portugal, in November.

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